Despite great success in significantly reducing the malaria burden in Viet Nam over recent years, the ongoing presence of malaria vectors and Plasmodium infection in remote forest areas and among marginalised groups presents a challenge to reaching elimination and a threat to re-emergence of transmission. Often transmission persists in a population despite high reported coverage of long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs), the mainstay control method for malaria. To investigate what factors may contribute to this, a mixed-methods study was conducted in Son Thai commune, a community in south-central Viet Nam that has ongoing malaria cases despite universal LLIN coverage. A cross-sectional behavioural and net-coverage survey was conducted along with observations of net use and entomological collections in the village, farm huts and forest sites used by members of the community.
Most community members owned a farm hut plot and 71.9% of adults aged 18+ years sometimes slept overnight in the farm hut, while one-third slept overnight in the forest. Ownership and use of nets in the village households was high but in the farm huts and forest was much lower; only 44.4% reported regularly using a bednet in the farm and 12.1% in the forest. No primary anopheline species were captured in the village, but Anopheles dirus (s.l.) (n = 271) and An. maculatus (s.l.) (n = 14) were captured as far as 4.5 km away in farm huts and forest. A high proportion of biting was conducted in the early evening before people were under nets. Entomological inoculation rates (EIR) of An. dirus (s.l.) were 17.8 and 25.3 infectious bites per person per year in the outdoor farm hut sites and forest, respectively, for Plasmodium falciparum and 25.3 in the forest sites for P. vivax.
Despite high net coverage in the village, gaps in coverage and access appear in the farm huts and forest where risk of anopheline biting and parasite transmission is much greater. Since subsistence farming and forest activities are integral to these communities, new personal protection methods need to be explored for use in these areas that can ideally engage with the community, be durable, portable and require minimal behavioural change.